Aranui Eagles can perhaps count themselves as one of the unluckiest teams in the Massetti Cup. The club saw 2018 as a rebuilding phase but only missed out on a spot in the top four by a single point.

Head coach Eddie Timo-Latu, who returned to the club after being away for six years, says his side knew they were a genuine top-four side but soft losses throughout their season cost them a finals berth.

“The boys knew we should have been in the top four quite easily. There were a lot of close games we could have won … but gave the win away, and the boys were pretty gutted about that,” Timo-Latu admitted.

“All the guys did the hard yards, but we made a few mistakes and didn’t take the opportunities and close off games, that was our biggest downfall.”

After the Eagles finished second-last in 2017, Timo-Latu credited the team’s culture as being a catalyst to such a strong rebuilding season. For the coach, the mana within his team and club was his biggest positive to come out of the season.

“The biggest positive for me was the bonding of everyone. At the end of the game no one would go their own ways, they will all just stick together for the whole night and just enjoy each other’s company,” Timo-Latu said.

When asked about standout players in his team he was quick to highlight prop Junior Peneli imposing presence on the field. Brothers Junior and Sea Muaimalae were also notable performers throughout the season.

Despite being in a rebuilding phase, Timo-Latu couldn’t commend the club’s culture highly enough. He said that his side had a really good pre-season, and were gutted to just have missed the four by one point.

The Eagles won three games during the second round – including a 25-18 victory over fourth-placed Halswell – but narrow losses to Papanui and Northern ultimately proved crucial.

“I just know the boys can do it, through hard work. We all know what we are capable of, we are the smallest team in the competition but we still knew we could’ve gone all the way in terms of making the top four,” Timo-Latu said.

The Eagles round off their season playing for the Gore Cup. Their first stop is a match-up with Celebration Lions, who finished one point behind them. Timo-Latu says they want to finish the season off well.

“The boys did all the hard work through the year – in terms of the training and pre-season, we had an awesome pre-season. They just want to finish off good so they can step into next year with the Gore Cup.”

With only a fortnight left in the season Timo-Latu is confident his charges can store the Gore Cup in their cabinet for the summer.

“All those bottom four teams want the Gore Cup but I think we are going to take it.”

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